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on December 26, 2002
I originally purchased and read "Why Americans Hate Politics" shortly after it was published. Recently, I came across the book in my library and read it again.
Few modern-day books and in depth analyses manage to weather the test of time. Mr. Dionne's thesis, to his credit, is further affirmed in its accuracy just four days short of 2003. This achievement is only diminished by the frustration of knowing that we've sunken much deeper into this morass of "ideological polarization" vis a vis liberalism and conservatism as it affects today's political climate in the U.S.
Mr. Dionne could hardly have predicted the proliferation of cable networks with their steady diet of disciples from both sides pummeling the viewer 24 hours a day. Neither could he have imagined the depths to which politicos, think tanks, and special interest groups would plunge as this "polarization" continues to feed upon itself some 12 years later.
"Why Americans Hate Politics" should be on every required reading list in our colleges and universities as well as among engaged and concerned citizens in the United States - especially given current events.
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on April 2, 2005
I like bold books that make bold statements. "Why Americans Hate Politics" opens swinging for the fences, saying accurately that the New Left elected Reagan. And when the book isn't speaking difficult truths, its articulating things clearly that you've probably sensed before. This book traces American Politics from the 60s to 91, outlining the major shifts in ideologies and how they are represented in the political parties. The way it displays these sometimes dramatic shifts could be the books highest value. To see the words "liberal" and "Republican" next to each other feels bizarre, though it shouldn't, and people where described as such not long ago. "Why Americans..." argues essentially there was an insurgency in the Democratic Party in the 60s that split the centrist New Deal consensus. While there were inherently some contradictions in that consensus, the Vietnam War exacerbated the split. At the same time, a conservative coalition emerged, thanks in large part to William Buckley's National Review and the candidacy of Barry Goldwater, that was able to unite two former democratic flanks, namely the libertarian/internationalist neo-conservatives and the traditional/religious populists. The cause of anti-communism solidified that coalition. In turn, the Democratic Party was caught trying to balance the radicals of the sixties and the New Dealers from the past. The two sides have battled it out ever since.

Most importantly and refreshingly, Dionne takes both sides seriously and at their word. For example, he is eloquent in pointing out that and that most religious conservatives don't want to delegitimize other's faiths or force others to their own, they just don't like being mocked as dupes. Further, conservatives are foolish when they dismiss the 60s as being merely a radical frenzy. Our current attitudes of equality and opportunity, that no one serious would dissent from, were fought for in that era and those victories must be acknowledged. Both parties have had successes and mistakes, and could learn from each other.

There are a few problems with the book, however. At one point it seemed as if Dionne couldn't decide whether the South became Republican because of demographic and economic changes, or because it is simply anti-civil rights. I also think that he succumbs to impulse (like Thomas Friedman) that says everyone is mostly right and we just need to compromise toward the middle. Compromise is of value, but it's not the highest value. But overall it is a great book displaying how unnatural coalitions in our two party system make politics about symbolism rather than substance. The fight against terrorism will act like anticommunism in that it will continue to hold the conservative coalition together while it will put liberals into a bind when trying to articulate their strategies in that fight. But these schisms are on the horizon and must be dealt with. Then, hopefully, we can put the war of symbols aside. But I'm not holding my breath.
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on January 17, 2001
"Why Americans Hate Politics" is a brilliant treatment of the major themes of American politics of the last 50 or so years from today's best political journalist. This book showcases exactly what is so good about Dionne's Washington Post columns: insights that are always penetrating, and never anodyne.
Dionne nicely handles a wide spectrum of issues, such as feminism, the resurgence of religion in politics, supply side economics and the divisions in both modern liberalism and conservatism. At the same time, Dionne provides depth, breadth and context that are uncharacteristic of many textbooks that cover the same period. Dionne does not heed the traditional fissures between political history, intellectual history, economic history and civil rights history. Because of this tack, Dionne effectively conveys just how much was going on at any point in American political life.
Finally, I appreciated Dionne's willingness both to mention and cite other works that provide a more thorough treatment of given subjects. Among the many titles I got from reading Dionne's book were Nicol Rae's "The Decline and Fall of Liberal Republicans," Kevin Phillip's "The Politics of Rich and Poor" and John Richard Neuhaus' "The Naked Public Square." Any book that gives me three suggestions of three more "must read" titles gets extra points.
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on March 3, 2006
I came across this book about a year ago, if that, at my local public library. Dionne's piercing analysis opened my eyes to the answer, or beginnings of an answer, to a question that had been so residual in my mind.

Looking at the publication date, I was taken aback. The book is so relevant, and it was originally introduced to the market in 1992.

But that's a footnote. Dionne's thesis is simple, yet brilliantly incisive: American political "apathy" is only apparent; the hostility among most people toward 'politics' and, especially, 'politicians' can be explained, he writes, toward the "false choices" provided by our ineffective two-party system.

So, instead of energy and solidarity, we are seeing (and have been seeing for many years, as Dionne indicates) paralysis, stagnation and a 'polarized' climate that denies a third way.

Read it.
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on January 9, 2000
Looking at some of the negative reviews on this page, I have to wonder whether these readers read the same book I did. I though Dionne's book was a political opus and the large number of awards it has received encourages my judgement. What Dionne explains is how we got to where we are today (or at least to 1992 when the book was written). This includes the ideological spectrum, the travels of each political party, and most importantly, why our people are so disgusted with politics. Because he is a liberal, Dionne's criticisms of his ideology and his explanations for the political failure of liberalism are particularly credible and insightful. I heartily recommend this book. If you share my opinion, see Robert Samuelson's "The Good Life and Its Discontents."
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on May 1, 2002
I am not a fan of E.J. Dionne's columns by any stretch of the imagination. A friend suggested I read this book, and I have to say I was VERY impressed.
Dionne's account of the dynamics of American politics over the past fifty years is nothing short of remarkable. The book combines political theory, history, and biography in a way I've never experienced before.
His interpretations of the evolution of liberalism and conservatism in postwar America are amazing - well-balanced between explaining the ideological abstracts of both sides and illustrating his discussions with the people and events that shaped them. It is high-end, dense political writing, and Dionne does it well.
I look forward to reading his other books now... I'm still no fan of his columns though...
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on April 18, 2016
I came to know about this book while reading "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America". This book was cited a couple of times and was praised as a good book to read. "Why Americans Hate Politics" was published in 1991 so it's probably due for another edition maybe titled: "Why Americans Still Hate Politics". Not that much would change. Issues such as education, military, health care, race, etc. are just as relevant now as they were then and the two parties have the same stances on those issues.

The title of the book is a question but the answer is not explicitly given until the end. For the first twelve chapters the author, E.J. Dionne Jr., gives us an American political history lesson. He begins with the late 50's until the late 80's while briefly touching upon the 30's and the era of the New Deal. The book reads like a text book at times but offers very consumable and interesting facts. After the first twelve chapters I thought I understood what the answer to the question was but he offered a slightly different answer.

After reading the steps and missteps of both parties over the years I came to the conclusion that Americans hate politics because every group, whether large or small, has had the feeling of being left out of the discussion at one time or another. This seemed to me the clear conclusion he was drawing after 300 pages of Liberal and Conservative maneuvering, but he had a slightly different more elaborate answer. One passage that summarized the American sentiment came in chapter 12:

"This, then, is the legacy of the last thirty years: a polarized politics that highlights symbolic issues, short-circuits genuine political debate, gives discontent few real outlets, allows money a paramount role in the electoral process, and leaves the country alarmed over whether it can maintain its standard of living."

All that is true and E.J. cites many examples to elucidate that answer. This is a book you'll have to hunker down to read because it's not a real page turner. There is a lot to digest and a lot of politics to familiarize yourself with (such as populists, libertarians, isolationists, etc.) that have occurred from the New Deal era till the presidency of George Bush Sr. It's all worth it to be at least a little bit more in tuned and apprised of the politics of the country you reside in.
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on July 20, 2004
Facinating reading on the evolution of political thought through the last thirty years of the 20th Century. If you have an interest in politics and economics and are the least bit curious about ideas it can't be beat. When you finish you should follow up with "They Only Look Dead" which, sort of, takes up where this book leaves off. Dionne is a great writer and a solid thinker.
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on September 30, 2011
This book has an academic feel to it in the following sense: a common problem in social science research is that someone does a case study but then they have to do an analysis that purports to extract its larger significance. Often, however, the case study and the analysis do not line up. That's the situation here. There's a lengthy historical case study -- the evolution of pluralist politics in the US since World War Two -- and an analysis on why Americans hate politics, and the two don't particularly mesh. Perhaps Dionne intended to sell a straight cultural history of American politics, but an editor said, "I'll buy it, but it needs to be made more catchy. A question I've been wondering about myself is why Americans express such hostility to politics..."

I say that this book is split for several reasons. First, if the goal was to explain hostility to politics, then one would probably start with interviews of contemporary Americans, try to dissect their attitudes and then do historical research to trace these attitudes back into the past. That's not what this book does. Instead, it's an election-by-election account of shifting political coalitions. Second, when the history ends and the analysis begins, the book lists the features that Americans don't like about politics and some of them, like the role of money in political campaigns, have been barely mentioned.

If you can get past this flaw and instead focus on the political history that is the vast bulk of the book, it is in fact quite good. It's not perfect -- Dionne wants to come off as objective and balanced but looks to be straining as the sins of liberals since the end of Vietnam are petty compared to those of conservatives -- but its position from the perspective of the early 1990s is very useful from the prospective of today. Over the last twenty years, there has been a tendency to whitewash postwar politics by projecting current political alignments onto the past, which makes it hard to appreciate that, for instance, `neoconservative' was originally meant as a derogatory term applied to people who did not think of themselves as conservatives.
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on October 3, 1998
Dionne, one of my favorite political columnists, kept up his usual solid work in this book. He looks at all the mistakes the left made in the 1960s that allowed the conservatives to take over then explains what that group has done wrong since it has taken control of policy. Thorough, in-depth analysis that delivers an uncompromising view of both ideologies.
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